Sheryl Sandberg at the World Economic Forum (Wikipedia)
As the “Can we have it all?” discussion moves on to “Lean in,” Yahoo recalls its homeworkers, Europe stresses over board quotas, and – just today – Mary Louise Kelly, NPR’s former Pentagon correspondent (and fellow alum of Emmanuel College, Cambridge) tells why she chose to lean out . . .; my question is, what’s the question?
That is to say, when an issue proves intractable, it is generally the case that the question’s wrong, or if not wrong that it’s not the best one to be asking. Re-frame the question and the logs unjam. (Note to self: my new website re-framing.com needs to be activated.)
As to the issue of women’s gaining top roles in management and government, I am a medium-term optimist. Indeed, I am not sure if optimism is the word. I anticipate a tectonic shift, in which women come to dominate the ranks of senior managers and leaders in something of a mirror image of the patriarchy of the 1950s. Seems to me that huge shifts in our society and the innovative nature of our businesses will rapidly bring to the fore managers and leaders with high capacities to engage change and to bridge ideas and people. While there are men who excel at both (and, no doubt, women who do not), it’s obvious that of the current crop of males and females one of these human halves wins hands down. I am not here today to account or philosophize. Merely to note.
That having been said, how to get there – and catalyze the process? In a helpful WSJ column, start-up CEO Jody Greenstone Miller seeks to re-frame the discussion. It is not, she claims, that women lack the drive to “lean in” – it is that they do not like the assumptions of the 24-hour executive culture in which “60-plus hours a week” is the norm into which they are being asked to lean. How organizations break down tasks, how they assess their people, how they rate quality over against quantity – these are not (my phrase) laws of nature; they are assumptions of corporate leaders and the cultures they help shape.
In fact, one of the many ironies of the digital revolution to date has been the degree to which communications capacities have been vastly improved and, at the same time, led to the very opposite of better control over time, distance, and availability. The deep naivety that leads so many grown persons to grasp their smartphones and interrupt family dinners, dates, business social occasions, driving – and no doubt showers and yardwork – as if this is somehow a superior way of living and working is risible. (See this embarrassingly candid tirade against Piers Morgan by his wife: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/life-in-a-goldfish-bowl–im-tired-of-my-husbands-tweet-nothings-20130130-2dl3t.html)
Point is: These technologies are enabling much more sophisticated work patterns, just as innovation requires them and the social changes that are finally offering women other than token roles in executive leadership demand them. While most of them would deny it absolutely, the phalanx of traditionalists who dominate the corporate world remain the legatees of an approach to leadership and management which we might broadly characterize as Fordist and which (while it was brilliant and indeed innovative in its day) is an increasingly deadly drag on efficiency and effectiveness in the emerging industries and society of C21.
I have written before of the competitive advantage being squandered by company after company as they ignore women applicants (and social media) with drunken abandon. I’ve argued it has been a tactical blunder to frame this question as one of equity (rather than advantage), which is one reason I am no enthusiast for quota solutions (though some other interventions such as requiring more board turnover work to everyone’s advantage). http://futureofbiz.org/2012/07/07/the-two-most-stunning-facts-about-american-business/
Point here is: Time and communications management, together with the project-focused approach that fits innovative companies and products and other natural shifts, are slowly moving us in a direction better suited to women, innovation, and also (once they start to get it) men.
Jody Greenstone Miller:
Mary Louise Kelly: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2013/03/11/when-the-sheryl-sandberg-approach-fails.html